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· September 12, 2012

State of Play – Where does Ohio stand on early voting?

photo via Mark Kovac
  Last Friday, advocates of early voting were quick to declare Secretary of State Husted’s move to rescind a directives limiting weekend early voting a victory. While the Secretary’s decision paves the way for county Board of Elections to offer early voting for the three days before the election, his action is by no means the silver bullet voting activist were looking for. How did we get where we are today?  In July, the Obama campaign sued Ohio over a new law eliminating early in-person voting on the three days before the election, except for military and overseas voters. Meanwhile, in August, Secretary Husted prohibited counties from opening the polls at night or on weekends for the full five weeks of early voting. On August 31st, a federal judge ruled in favor of the Obama campaign and ordered Secretary Husted to permit voting by all Ohioans on the final three days. Husted’s response?  A memo four days later ordering all Board of Elections not to establish hours for in-person voting on those days. Angered, the judge ordered Husted to appear in court, which brings us to last Friday, when Husted appeared to back down, rescinding his order barring the establishment of voting hours on November 3-5. At the same time, Husted requested a stay of the judge’s order and made clear he intended to appeal. Where do we go from here? The judge’s ruling on Husted’s request for a stay will determine how county Boards of Election will respond. If the judge denies Husted’s request, Boards would set voting hours on the three days before Election Day, but these hours would be subject to Husted’s appeal. No decision is expected in that case before September 21st. Where does this leave weekend voting for the thousands of registered voters who are unable to get to the polls during the week? They are still largely out of luck. The current fight centers around three days of voting, but does nothing to restore early voting on the other four weekends in October. According to the Plain Dealer:
“Husted’s earlier directive that uniformly sets in-person early-voting hours, which start on Oct. 2, still stands. Under that rule, generally, early voting at boards of election is from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and no weekend voting.”
While it is clear that citizens in Ohio want expanded early voting this election, and supporters should be buoyed by a federal judge calling for its restoration on the final weekend before the election, the fact is that hundreds of thousands of Ohio voters will not having the same opportunities they had in 2008.

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